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Certification Insider: Resource Overallocations

If you overload resources, your project finish date may look good, but it’s probably bogus. Assigning 20-hour work days doesn’t mean your team members will stay up that long and work that hard. The secret to success is to balance workloads so resources are busy, but not burning out. This month, you learn how to spot overallocations and balance workloads on your own, a topic covered in Microsoft’s Project certification exam, 70-632.

Finding Overallocations

The first step to a well-balanced schedule is finding resource overallocations. Resource and assignment views are your best bet. Here’s a quick rundown of the best views for optimizing assignments.

The Resource Sheet provides a sneak peak at overallocations. If a resource is overallocated at least once during the project, the text in the resource’s row is bold and red, and the Indicators column displays a yellow diamond with an exclamation mark. But this view doesn’t say when, how much, or on which assignments the overallocations occur.

The Resource Usage view combined with the Resource Graph is a one-two punch for knocking out overallocations. It shows the hours assigned by assignment and period while the Resource Graph makes it easy to see which periods are overallocated. The left pane of the Resource Usage view has a summary row for each resource with the task assignments below. The timescale shows the assigned hours by period. Overallocated resources appear in bolded red text. Hours that exceed the resource’s maximum available time appear in red, too. If several tasks contribute to an overallocation, the individual task hours may be black, but the total hours in the resource row are red, as you can see in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Resource Graph showing overallocation.

Certification Insider: Resource Overallocations

The Resource Graph shows allocation over time, resource by resource. A vertical bar shows the selected resource’s allocation during one time period. A horizontal line shows the resource’s maximum units. When the vertical bar is higher than the horizontal line and part of the bar is bright red (the overallocation), the resource is overallocated.

Sometimes resources are overallocated for a day or so, but can finish the job by the end of a week. Increase the length of the timescale periods (for example, from days to weeks) to see whether overallocations work themselves out. (Right-click the timescale heading to modify the timescale settings.)

After you find an overallocation, you can show other values in the Resource Graph such as Work or Remaining Availability. For example, switch to Remaining Availability to find someone to take some hours. Right-click the Resource Graph timescale, and then, from the shortcut menu, choose the field you want to display in the graph.

Tip: To emphasize overallocations in any resource-oriented view, turn on the Overallocated Resources filter, which displays only resources that are overallocated at some point during a project.

The Resource Allocation view displays the Resource Usage view in the top pane and the Leveling Gantt in the bottom pane, so you can delay tasks to resolve overallocations as you’ll learn shortly.

Balancing Workloads

The easiest way to eliminate overallocations is to ask resources to work longer hours. This approach is realistic only when overallocations are small and don’t last too long (no more, say, than 20 percent and two weeks).

To officially schedule longer days so assignments don’t show up as overallocations, don’t change a resource’s maximum units in the Resource Sheet. Maximum units represent the percentage of the standard workday that the resource devotes to the project. Modify the resource’s calendar to set up a special workweek or exception to reflect the short schedule change.

Replacing a resource with someone with more time (or adding additional resources) is the next best thing. You can reassign only the overallocated hours or an entire assignment. The Assign Resources dialog box makes it easy, because you can look for resources with the right characteristics or enough free time to complete the assignment. Click the plus sign to expand the Resource list options. Then apply a filter to find the type of resources you want or type the number of available hours you’re looking for.

In a task view like the Gantt chart or Leveling Gantt, select the task you want to reassign. In the Assign Resources dialog box, the assigned resources for the selected task appear at the top of the list preceded by a checkmark. To reduce a resource’s assignment, type the new percentage in the Units cell (from 100 percent to 50 percent, for example). To add a resource to the task, type the percentage you want to assign in the new resource’s Units cell and then press Enter. To replace a resource completely, select the one you want to replace and click Replace. In the Replace Resource dialog box, select the new resource and click OK.

Another way to eliminate overallocations is to delay one or more tasks so that assigned resources can work on the tasks one after the other. Project offers two types of delays:

  • Leveling delay applies to tasks and pushes the start date for the entire task. The table in the Leveling Gantt view includes the Leveling Delay field. To delay a task, type the length of delay in the Leveling Delay cell. (You can type a value like 3d to delay a task by three days. Project changes the durations you enter into elapsed time, so 3d turns into 3 “edays”.) In the Leveling Gantt chart, Project shows leveling delays that you’ve added by a thin line at the start of a task. You can remove all leveling delays by choosing Tools | Level Resources, and then clicking Clear Leveling.

Note: A leveling delay isn’t the same as lag time. Lag time is a period you need to wait between tasks, for example, an hour for paint to dry before you start the second coat.

  • Assignment delay is a delay on an individual assignment for a task, so some of the resources start working right away while others start a bit later. To add assignment delays to tasks, display the Resource Usage view and add the assignment Delay column to its table. Or in the Task Entry form, right-click the table area and choose Resource Schedule. The Delay column represents the Assignment Delay field.

Project optimistically assumes that resources work at the same level from the start to the finish of every task. To reflect how work really gets done, you can apply work contours to assignments. Like a sculptor, a work contour carves the level of effort that’s assigned over the duration of an assignment. Tasks tend to ramp up in the beginning, run at their peak in the middle, and then taper off at the end. Work contours reduce the hours for some time periods, so they extend assignment and task duration.

The Flat contour, which is the default setting, schedules the same hours of work each day of an assignment. The other contours have high and low points; the highs matching the number of hours in a day as a Flat contour. The names for work contours make sense. Back Loaded starts off slow and pushes the effort toward the end of the task. The Bell contour ramps up to a peak like the Back Loaded contour and then trails off like Front Loaded contour. The Turtle has low levels at the beginning and ends with a full load in the middle.

To apply a work contour to an assignment, display an assignment view like Resource Usage. Double-click the resource assignment you want to contour. In the Assignment Information dialog box, on the General tab, choose the contour in the Work Contour list (see Figure 2) and click OK. The Indicators column in a view table displays an icon for the applied contour.

Note: If resources cost more for overtime, you can assign work hours specifically as overtime in the Overtime Work field. Keep in mind, Project doesn’t automatically switch hours past the normal workday to overtime hours, so tracking overtime in the program is tedious at best. Use overtime only when resources cost more for overtime work. Project calculates the cost of overtime work hours by multiplying those hours by the Overtime Rate in the resource’s record.

Figure 2. Applying a black loaded contour.

Certification Insider: Resource Overallocations

Think You Know Resource Overallocations? Test Yourself!

One of the resources on your project is overallocated. After you celebrate your good fortune, you want to delay the tasks that resource works on to eliminate the overallocations. What’s the best way to do that?

Answer A: In the Resource Usage view timescale, type hours to adjust the resource’s assignments.

Answer B: Display the Resource Allocation view. Select the assignment you want to delay. In the Leveling Delay field, type the length of delay that you want to add to the task in elapsed days.

Answer C: In the Resource Usage view, select the resource assignment you want to delay. In the Task Form, display the Resource Schedule table and type the delay you want to add in the Leveling Delay field.

Answer D: In the Resource Usage view, select the resource assignment you want to delay. In the Task Form, display the Resource Schedule table and type the delay you want to add in the Assignment Delay field.

No peeking! Scroll below the book ordering information to read the answer to this quiz.


Order the MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-632): Managing Projects with Microsoft Office Project 2007.

To learn more about Microsoft certification, read, “Microsoft Project Management Certification: How to Get Started.”



The Answer to Test Yourself!

Answers B, C, and D are all correct. The Resource Allocation view displays the Resource Usage view in the top pane and the Leveling Gantt in the bottom pane. The table in the Leveling Gantt view contains the Leveling Delay column, so you can type the length of delay that you want to add to the task.
You can also add delays in the Task Form. Right-click the Task Form and display the Resource Schedule table. Type a delay for an entire task in the Leveling Delay field. To delay an assignment, type the value in the Delay field.

Answer A is incorrect. You can change work hours in the Resource Usage view timescale. However, these changes introduce date constraints to the task and you must manually adjust the work hours if your schedule changes.

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Written by Bonnie Biafore

Bonnie Biafore is the author of O’Reilly’s Microsoft Project: The Missing Manual (2007, 2010, and 2013 editions) and Microsoft Press’ Successful Project Management: Applying Best Practices and Real-World Techniques with Microsoft Project. She’s recorded Project Essential Training (for 2010 and 2013), Project Management Fundamentals, Managing Small Projects, and other courses for lynda.com. As a consultant, she manages projects for clients and wins accolades for her ability to herd cats. She has also written a humorous novel about hitmen and stupid criminals. You can learn more at Bonnie’s website or email her at bonnie.biafore@gmail.com.

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